A Little About Introverts (and the Workplace)

introverts2Yes, I am a “card-carrying” introvert — leaning toward the introverted end of the introvert/extrovert continuum. As expressed by Susan Cain – I am also proud of it (I too, thought of summer camp as a confusing form of torture). I’m one of those individuals who gathers strength from focusing “inward” and would rather brainstorm on my own than among a group of people. Like other introverts, I rehearse what I am going to say in a team environment — and feel more than a little drained after attending a party. I tend to “choke” if things go wrong, and I’m put on the spot. Meetings without defined agendas are problematic, as gathering my opinions before weighing in on a topic is important. Speaking in front of others can be challenging — however, the conversations that emerge are wonderful.

Like many introverts — I am also a bit misunderstood. As a youngster, I was continually asked why I wasn’t “smiling” at social gatherings, when in actuality I was having a perfectly good time observing the scene and watching others. (Just not waving my arms and jumping up and down with glee.) In college some of the other students in my dormitory let me know that at first meeting they found me  “stuck up” or “shy”. But, that just wasn’t the case. I thoroughly enjoyed social gathering with friends and love to laugh.

At LinkedIn, I’ve written about a challenging task for introverts — working on a team. (You can read “A Note About Introverts and Teams” here.) I spent the better part of a month reading about introversion and how this might impact workplace experiences. This included how introverts process information and how they might be most effective overall. I also had the opportunity to interview businesses that have developed novel methods to ensure that all voices are heard within a group setting. (These techniques were quite amazing).

But, by far – the most interesting aspect of the post were the comments from readers. Fellow introverts, team members and managers who just want the best and most productive outcome for all of us in the workplace. These comments let me know that our differences can combine to form a stronger team environment – and that mutual understanding and respect is really where our efforts should lie.

Are you a “card-carrying” introvert? What are your workplace experiences? Tell your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

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21 comments

  1. Yes I am a “card carrying ” introvert and while I was reading your experiances in the past I was identifing myself for some of them also hapened to me, like the legendary question. why you don’t smile? while I was having a perfectly good time. I remember a former supervisor who asked me the above mention question and I asked him if he wants me to wear my pen in my mouth I can do it like some people do they don’t actually carry the pen that force them to keep their mouth showing a smile but they do it because they are pretending, wearing a fake smile like hyenas do.

  2. Hi Marla,

    I am keenly interested in your thoughts here.

    By chance you retweeted a post I published (likely through Triberr) about hiring a professional. I am doing research on how workspace affects employees. I am an interior designer and corporate offices space design has been a specialty of mine for a very long time.

    In the past we typically haven’t address workspace needs at the level of personality, work style or demographics but realized over the past few years that studying and understanding individual work style can significantly increase productivity and, in fact, can modify the workers attitude toward their physical environment in many ways.

    I hope get an opportunity to discuss this topic with you to gain some insight from your specific perspective. Very excited to have crossed paths.

    Cheers.

  3. Marla, i am a team leader and an introvert. i know that i have been perceived weak by the loud and the bold on the team but they only see themselves and what they believe to be right and true and try to force that belief. i look, listen and feel to understand people. i see that as quiet strength. i was once asked in an interview “it says here good sense of humor on you CV, I’m not getting that from you!” I said, “I always laugh at my own jokes” Dumbest question ever. I tell new members of my team that i am an introvert. great post thanks

  4. Paul – I am shocked that someone would actually be that insensitive during an interview. We have a long way to go in terms of building mutual understanding, don’t we? Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. I’m an extrovert, but am always interested in studying introverts because of the need to manage them differently. I remember the first time I managed an extremely introverted team how very different it was, and I made all the mistakes I could. Now, I make sure to study this first and adapt as necessary. Thanks for the post.

  6. Hello Marla.. :)
    I’m an introvert person but I don’t understand what it means with “card carrying”. Anyway, I’m introvert and this year I’m trying to make a breakthrough, to be a little extrovert. First of all, I think introvert people (like me :D) need to be more open to others. And, how can I do that? I’m starting with people in my office and attending to be an organizer at my office event. That’s a good starting point I guess and so I could know everyone from the lowest to highest level. Second, saying hello and asking “how’s your day?” to everyone is important, but the most important is are you saying it just for your habbit or do you really care about them. Care to each other is one of a good point and sometimes, introvert people has being to shy to do that. Motivate yourself and don’t let your shy-ness taking your control. This far, at least I have 1 friend from each floor and security, even office boy or cleaning service. And that method is quite success.. :)
    Ahh, and one suggetion from my CEO, try to talk with different person everyday. It will train you to talk to many people and increase your knowledge.

  7. From a UK perspective I think we see things a bit differently! I believe that in the UK sometimes showing an extrovert preference is seen as un-British, loud, annoying! We don’t understand what a times seems an American obsession with ‘having to be Extrovert’!

    So, I find having a preference for introversion in the UK to be no disadvantage although with a big caveat – as long as you are self-aware of the impact you make or don’t as the case may be and I think that’s the important point whichever country you are in.

  8. Thank you so much for providing your perspective from the UK. It is true, that here in the US, there seems to be a “happiness” or “extrovert” bias. I am glad to hear that you feel no impediments are present. You are correct to note that becoming self-aware (and gathering feedback if you are not) is key. Thanks for visiting the Office Blend.

  9. I loved your post!
    I am a fellow card carrier and have experienced what you have written too – including the toturous summer camp (summer sports groups being the UK version)

    I am shy, goofy and when attempting to appear as an extrovert either unwittingly offend someone or panic and ramble.

    I am currently attempting to write a code of conduct and leadership skills guide for those with managerial responsibilities in my office and your post has inspired me to try and coach our esteemed leaders in how to deal with the shyer type of people.

  10. Thank you so much for reading. I truly encourage you do so! Mutual understanding is so very important. (If you haven’t done so already – visit the LinkedIn post. It will offer you more topics to discuss.)

  11. I, too, am a misunderstood introvert. I realized the gap between what I know I am and what I show to others when a co-worker of mine said “I NEVER would have guessed that you’re an introvert!” I was floored…until I read Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

    I typically feel drained after giving a presentation or attending a networking event and I often get sick of the sound of my own voice on days when I’ve had to be particularly “on.” However with my team at work, I feel energized most of the time because these people get me and accept me for who I am. We are a unique group in that we are all women and we all work together marvelously – no catty back-stabbing, petty bickering, etc. It helps that I have a boss who is gifted in hiring the right personalities with the right skill sets to blend into the team. As I believe Dr. Gottschalk has written in several posts, workplace team dynamics can make or break the success of your organization and I am blessed to belong to a team that is getting it right.

    I would encourage my fellow introverts to stay strong in their convictions and consistent in their actions. Those will speak louder than the loudmouths’ words!

  12. I am also an introvert which can be difficult when you are in HR. it can be very draining. I have been told that I am too shy and it can seem like I am unapproachable. I struggle with this constructive critism at times because I don’t want to come as fake; I still smile and start conversations, and give overall good advice and guidance-but am lacking that outgoing personality that everyone automatically wants to be around. It can be a struw in my field but I think I can still be a successful HR professional as a natural introvert

  13. I too am an introvert and am sometimes viewed as lacking confidence or knowledge because of my preferred way of communicating. I am pushed to communicate outside my comfort zone because others prefer in your face off the cuff ways of communicating. A little bit of a double standard in the workplace and on management teams.

  14. That can be very frustrating – I understand. I developed methods to bend things in my direction, such as this “I’m in the middle of something right now, but I can give it my full attention tomorrow.” – or any phrase that allows you to process how you feel most comfortable. It takes a bit of time for others to realize that people process and communicate in different ways.

  15. I am a card carrier as well. I am not shy by far so most of my friends do not consider me an introvert. My motivation comes from within and other people’s energy can be very draining at times. I have a lot of employee interaction which is fine for me but a day where I have to really be “on” for a long period of time leaves me wiped. I wish that all employers would educate themselves on the value of all personality types rather than trying to change us.

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